Although some people may find it crazy, I celebrate my half birthday  every year — hey, they don't call me PartySugar for nothing! Since a half birthday party should never be more elaborate than your real birthday , I'm hosting an intimate oyster picnic. A group of my closest friends will join me for an afternoon at the Hog Island Oyster Company Farm . The menu consists of all-you-can-eat fresh oysters and several dishes I'll be preparing in advance. A classic mignonette will be delicious spooned on top the oysters. A crisp salad complete with croutons, mushrooms, and arugula is a filling side. The farm has barbecues that are open to the public, so we'll grill up some simple cheese sandwiches.
Salty, garlicky potato chips provide crunch and round out the easy, portable, make-ahead menu. To check out these recipes, .
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped shallot
Pinch of coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 dozen fresh oysters, scrubbed, shucked, and left on the half shell
- Stir vinegar, shallot, salt, and tarragon in a small bowl.
- Arrange oysters on a bed of crushed ice. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon mignonette over each, and serve.
Makes 1 dozen.
- Seafood, Appetizers
1/4 cup unsalted butter
12 cups crust-free cubed day-old bread (1/2-inch cubes)*
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery heart (on the diagonal), plus some chopped leaves
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced onion-soup style
2 ounces baby arugula or spinach leaves
- For the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over moderate heat and cook until it foams.
- In a large bowl, pour the butter over the 12 cups cubed bread and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to season all of the bread.
- Transfer the bread to a baking sheet.
- Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 15 minutes.
- Let cool. Croutons can be made 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container.
- For the dressing: Melt the butter in a small skillet over moderately low heat.
- Add the yellow onion and saute until soft, about 15 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the vinegar and stir with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits stuck on the bottom of the skillet.
- Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add 1/2 cup of the olive oil, then the water.
- Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
- For the salad: Heat a large skillet over high heat.
- When hot, add 1/4 cup olive oil.
- When the oil begins to smoke, sprinkle in the mushrooms. Don't stir! Let them sizzle until they have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 minutes. If you toss them too soon, they will release their liquid and begin to steam. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss the mushrooms, reduce the heat to moderate, and continue to cook until well browned.
- Stir in the thyme and garlic and cook for about 1 minute to release their fragrance. Season with salt and pepper.
- In a large bowl, combine the croutons, the mushrooms, and the onion dressing. Toss well to coat.
- Add the celery, red onion, and arugula or spinach and toss again gently.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning. Grate fresh Parmesan on top and serve immediately.
Note: For the croutons: use a serrated knife to remove the crust from day-old bread, then switch to a chef's knife to cut the cubes because it doesn't tear the bread. Grate the parmesan finely so that it will stick to the bread better.
- Salads, Bread
2 slices white bread
Grated Gruyère, fontina and mozzarella cheese
- Top slices of white bread with a mix of grated Gruyère, fontina and mozzarella cheese. Close the sandwiches and lightly butter the outside of the bread.
- Grill over low heat until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted. Cut into triangles and serve immediately.
Makes 4 triangles.
- Main Dishes, Sandwiches
- North American
Roasted Garlic Spice
8 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
2 teaspoons gray salt
4 black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
Pinch chili powder
2 bags favorite plain potato chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the thinly sliced garlic between some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake until the garlic is dry, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
- In a grinder add the dried garlic, salt, black peppercorns, mustard powder, and chili powder. Grind them all up.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spill 2 bags of chips onto a cookie sheet and put in oven to heat them up. When oil is visible on the chips, take them out of the oven, and sprinkle with the garlic spice. Let them cool and serve.
- Appetizers, Finger Foods